Extracts from Stephen Hawking's new book "The Grand Design" were published this week in The Times. Stating boldly that "philosophy is dead" his book is a description of M-theory, and the implications for what M-theory is now telling us about the true nature of reality. As Hawking explains, M-Theory is the only candidate for being an ultimate theory of everything.
However, he then goes on to explain that M-theory is not one, but a family of theories, each one of which provide explanations for a limited range of physical situations. What this means is that each theory provides a mathematical model enabling scientists to predict the behaviour of certain phenomena. Being able to produce a mathematical model enabling prediction of phenomena is not the same thing as being able to say that you have fully explained that phenomena.
Hawking continues with these three sentences which really beg to be analysed:
M-theory predicts that a great many universes were created out of nothing. Their creation does not require the intervention of some supernatural being or god. Rather, these multiple universes arise naturally from physical law."
As the late psychedelic philosopher and ethnobotanist Terrence McKenna remarked, scientists ask us for just one miracle in order that they then be able to explain the rest. This is a case in point. Hawking is asking us to take on belief that something can be created out of nothing, and their mathematical models are sufficient for an explanation. He is also suggesting that the physical laws exist independently from the universe, but how? He does not explain in these extracts anyway. This is something Rupert Sheldrake, in "A New Science of Life" deals with brilliantly, describing this scientific thinking as a form of mysticism.
As for M-theory itself, I read recently the book "The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory" by Brian Greene. I stopped reading this book at the point whee Greene admits that M-theory is so complex, that even those who have invented some of the maths do not understand the actual maths themselves. Hawking too admits the same:
"People are still trying to decipher the nature of M-theory, but that may not be possible."
Hawking then explains M-theory in a little more detail, and does away with the need for "God" by explaining that M-theory predicts 10 to the power of 500 universes, so the fact that our universe supports life, although seeming to be a fluke given the incredible improbability, it is in fact probable given how many universes are possible.
This is where the argument gets interesting for me, since all the recent discussions in the press that this book has generated seem to be between Hawking and either Christians or Jews. When it comes to Eastern religions, I have not seen any analysis from Buddhists, Hindus, or Taoists.
Hawking does not seem to explain the notion of "God" but more interesting to me does not explain consciousness. In my dissertation I explore many different theories and conceptualisations of consciousness, and also explore consciousness in my essay Knowing and Not Knowing
This essay compares the holographic quantum theory of David Bohm (Wholeness and the Implicate Order) with that of Julian Barbour (The End of Time), and then looks at some of the great conversations between scientists and spiritual leaders such as The Dalai Lama and Krishnamurti. It also looks at the amazing correspondence over many years between physicist Wolfgang Pauli and Carl Jung, published in the phenomenal book "Atom and Archetype".
My essay also relates one particular ayahuasca vision that I had in which I was shown the Tao and how this relates to the framework of the implicate order and wholeness of David Bohm:
"Towards the end of November last year, after I had completed the module on Chaos, Complexity and Gaia Theory, I had a vision. In this vision, I could see how everything was part of an enormous cosmic dance, everything was interconnected, coming into being, existing, and then melting away in a beautiful dynamic array of patterns and colours. This vision appeared to me to be a visual representation and an conscious experience of Bohm's holomovement. However, within this vision, it was also made clear to me that this was still not the `ultimate reality,' that although the world we live in is one of illusion, so were the higher implicate orders, the higher dimensions of reality. For at one and the same time, I was also shown in this vision the relationship of myself to the Tao, and I was experiencing my own consciousness as it related to the explicate order, the implicate orders and the Tao.
In an instant I grasped what the vision was attempting to teach me. The vision spoke to me and said:
`Consciousness is the Tao looking back in on itself.'
Hawking for me while being a genuis, in not addressing consciousness does not appear to be able to explain everything. For him, he still appears to be living in a material world of particles, even those particles are behaving very strangely. His concept of the universe should be contrasted to that of David Bohm, who understood the universe to be one of unbounded wholeness, where explanations of causation were to be replaced by explanations of dynamic processes within this single wholeness. For me this is where "God" is to be found. "God" is everywhere because "everywhere" is one single unity of consciousness, looking back in on itself, the Tao, of which we can never know, just revere.
This is very interesting. Thank you for an excellent analysis of what the book actually says as opposed to what the press have hysterically described it as saying.
Your point about Consciousness fascinates me because Consciousness, as you know doubt know, is the big problem that Science tries to pretend is not a problem. At a party at the home of an eminent scientist I was at the other day I found myself discussing this issue with a Physicist who just smiled at me condescendingly and suggested that this was not a scientific problem. When I pointed out that a Theory of Everything was not a Theory of Everything if it did not include Consciousness, he said 'I don't think a Physicist would have anything to say about that' and suggested that to a Physicist, a Theory of Everything would only include physical processes.
I said that I was fine by that, but Consciousness poses a serious problem to all reductionist/ materialist POVs on Science because it has no physical presence or location, and yet it is fundamental to our experience of anything. While it is regularly assumed that Neurons are the source, there is actually no theory or evidence which shows how this works. Not only that, but it remains impossible to 'find' Consciousness. In Sue Blackmore's book 'Conversations on Consciousness', this is strikingly clear. This leads to two possible conclusions:
1) Consciousness does not exist. It is an 'illusion', either an epiphenomenon of the brain or something entirely non-existent. This is the view of Blackmore, the Churchlands, Dennett etc. This preserves Materialistic Monism.
2) Consciousness represents an Order of Being which is non-material and thus unrecognised by Science at the present time. This means that it presents us either with Dualism or that Consciousness is another expression of Energy/Matter (as Bohm and Heisenberg suggested). If the latter, then it has to be incorporated into the Laws of Physics, the Laws of Conservation of Energy etc and thus must become a fundamental of the fabric of the Cosmos. Penrose, Velmans and Hammeroff have all suggested this in our modern times. If this is true, then the nature of the Mind and its relation to the Cosmos is much more interesting than we have hitherto thought. All of this will require us to rewrite the rulebooks on how Consciousness and Matter work and open some very interesting possibilities.
The problem with proposition 1) is that however one looks at it, Consciousness cannot be 'an illusion' because this still implies someone watching the 'illusion' - which is Consciousness. Further more, the suggestion that it is 'an illusion' has come about through observations, thought processes and conclusions which have come about thanks to Consciousness. One cannot use the Scientific Method WITHOUT Consciousness. Indeed, it would not have been developed without it.
So Science is faced with 2) as the only option, which means that Consciousness CANNOT be ignored as part of a Theory of Everything. So we are at an interesting place.
Scientists who felt or feel that Consciousness had to accounted for and had to be factored into Science include: Bohr, Einstein, Heisenberg, Schroedinger, Von Neumann, Pauli, Planck, Eddington, Bohm, Wheeler, Penrose, Velmans, LaBerge, Lanza, Hammeroff, Linde, Laszlo and many more. This has to be taken seriously.
Also, unfortunately for Atheists, Consciousness is one of the definitions of God in Hinduism (CHIT in SAT CHIT ANANDA), the Buddhists speak of Mind being the actual ground of existence and in the West Platonism, Neo-Platonism, Hermeticism, Augustinian and Greek Orthodox Theology and Kabbalah all define God as 'Mind' or 'Consciousness'.
That is a very interesting reply and thank you for being so extensive.
In Hawking's book, he does not talk about consciousness in relation to understanding scientific models of reality. He only talks about the brain:
"To deal with such paradoxes we shall adopt an approach that we call model-dependent realism. It is based on the idea that our brains interpret the input from our sensory organs by making a model of the world. When such a model is successful at explaining events, we tend to attribute to it, and to the elements and concepts that constitute it, the quality of reality or absolute truth."
In Hawking's world it is brains that interpret the world, and he makes no comment on the fact that our conscious involvement in quantum experiments affects the outcome of those experiments. He seems to be an ardent materialist, when in fact others such as David Bohm have provided frameworks of reality that suggest it is one continuous unbroken wholeness.
"Hawking is asking us to take on belief that something can be created out of nothing"
Presumably your version is that the universe was created by God. Did God create the universe from nothing? If he did then why do you argue that Hawking is wrong to assert this? You yourself are saying that the universe was created from nothing - the only difference is you claim god did it whilst Hawking is trying to use reason and science to make sense of it. At least Hawking has some evidence - you don't.
Excellent discussion, here are a few things I'd to contribute.
Having read Hawking's outline of M-theory in "The Universe in a Nutshell," I can relate that it has nothing to do with "a material world of particles." It is much more fundamental, involving the formation and structure of spacetime. Those who relate his ideas as materialism are using a rather inaccurate term, since M-theory studies entirely non-material phenomena, like space and time.
Also, the quote that Hawking is positing that the universe was created out of nothing seems to be based on extracts that were released to the Times. If we're really going to analyse and critique his theories, I think we need a more thorough understanding of his argument. Most of us are hardly qualified to analyse the mathematics involved, and the conversation seems to revert to the old "God-did-it/No-he-didn't" argument. Most of us couldn't effectively argue the finer points of how the Sun shines, how are we supposed to argue about the creation of the universe? I am more inclined to believe someone who can present evidence in the form of equations modeled on established theories than I am to believe someone who got his ideas from "visions."
Right, so the 'they're both wrong' argument should be assumed? Clearly you have no idea how knowledge works, or why we attempt to gain knowledge. All knowledge is provisional, and is based on knowledge previously gained - including scientific knowledge. I am not saying that you must conclude God, neither am I arguing in favour of him. What I am saying is that a strict materalistic view, and a pure mathematical theory do not automatically imply the negation of God - as so many suggest - and this is because those views in themselves are problematic to a certain degree.
But then again I'm unlikely to convince you of these arguments - yet again. This is the problem with strict atheism. Its so sure of itself to the point of blind acceptance of their own position. The same can be said for strict theism.
"the further i look into the universe and all the theories attempting to explain it the easier it becomes to believe in a god "
That's because god is the ultimate easy answer; the ultimate cop-out in fact. That is why deities were our ancient ancestors first primitive attempt to explain their existence and that of the world around them. Such a belief is perhaps understandable for an Iron Age tribe, but it is less so for those of us with access to the knowledge gained by centuries of scientific endeavor.
Your statement can be characterised as follows:
"Hmm... here is some complicated stuff I don't understand. I wonder how that could have come about. I know! A magic man with superpowers did it!. Phew! Thank goodness for that. I thought I was going to have do do some serious thinking there for a moment. Ho hum, better get back to muttering stuff into the sky."
"That's because god is the ultimate easy answer; the ultimate cop-out in fact. That is why deities were our ancient ancestors first primitive attempt to explain their existence and that of the world around them. Such a belief is perhaps understandable for an Iron Age tribe, but it is less so for those of us with access to the knowledge gained by centuries of scientific endeavor."
Well that argument is flawed. I love these religion is purely the God in the Gaps arguments - its so not. If you look at Newton, or Galileo you'll notice that they both felt that life had a purpose. ("God's Philosophers" is a good book on this). By studying the empirical realm, and therefore the world, they thought that they were getting better acquainted with God's designated purpose.
The fact that all these years later we have come into the realms of God did it, doesn't mean that thats what has always been understood by it. It is, if anything, a recent occurance ("The Evolution-Creation Struggle" is a good book on how recent).
In fact I'm not even sure whether these fundamentalist views of "God did it" is really all that predominant as everyone seems to suggest. Most of the theists I know are highly intelligent, and most of them never appeal to God to explain any hypothesis. But all of them agree that life's defined purpose came from God. This is what Francis Collins argues in "The Language of God". He suggests that by sudying science he gets a better look at God's defined purpose for life. I have read a number of his books, and I've never seem him use the phrase "God did it".
Ergo, this argument of religion just being a stop gap argument just shows ignorance to any kind of theological history. Once again I'm left 'face palming' myself.
I never said I believe in a god. Before I started reading and becoming interested in the universe, I found it hard to believe how someone could believe in a god. Now I understand that it is just a easy way out (just as you said) and makes people feel comfortable.
Plus I never said I don't understand this "stuff" and I never said a magic man with superpowers did it. Im young, only 18 and have only been looking into this for coming up to a year, im just trying to see more than just my opinion maybe that way i will learn more. :) :)
"Well that argument is flawed. I love these religion is purely the God in the Gaps arguments - its so not. If you look at Newton, or Galileo you'll notice that they both felt that life had a purpose. ("God's Philosophers" is a good book on this). By studying the empirical realm, and therefore the world, they thought that they were getting better acquainted with God's designated purpose." I was responding to the view stated by the earlier poster. The views of Newton and Galileo are neither here nor there in that context. You seem to have a problem keeping your arguments focused and relevent.
"The fact that all these years later we have come into the realms of God did it, doesn't mean that thats what has always been understood by it. It is, if anything, a recent occurance ("The Evolution-Creation Struggle" is a good book on how recent). " There you go again. I made no comment about how recent, or otherwise, the "god of the gaps" argument is.
"In fact I'm not even sure whether these fundamentalist views of "God did it" is really all that predominant as everyone seems to suggest. Most of the theists I know are highly intelligent, and most of them never appeal to God to explain any hypothesis. But all of them agree that life's defined purpose came from God. This is what Francis Collins argues in "The Language of God". He suggests that by sudying science he gets a better look at God's defined purpose for life. I have read a number of his books, and I've never seem him use the phrase "God did it"." What exactly is "life's defined purpose", and who defines it? What makes you believe that life necessarily has "a purpose" other than that which each of us ourselves gives it?
"Ergo, this argument of religion just being a stop gap argument just shows ignorance to any kind of theological history. Once again I'm left 'face palming' myself." Do us all a favour and try doing it a little harder.
Great discussion. I do not see why there has to be this antagonism between science and God; I see none. I cannot understand how some scientists percieve theories and mechanisms of "how" the universe came into creation as evidence against a God. This still does not really address the question of "why something and not nothing." A few hundred years ago the physicists of the day thought that they had nearly explained everything in physical terms, yet how wrong they were. We have continued to scrape existence back layer after layer - and what happens? Our views on reality become increasingly more and more complex and more and more questions are raised. And where does this place us in terms of explaining the origins of existence? Pretty much exactly back where we were millenia ago. We are still faced with the same fundamentally profound question of WHY is anything here. We may be better placed to explain some of the HOW, but explaining the WHY is always going to lie in the realms of metaphysics and philosophy. Bet God's laughing...
Haha v funny (which one). Whichever omnipotent being u subscribe to I guess! That's my point tho- there is no answer to the why. This could be our human condition, causality. It is very difficult to wrap your mind around there being no cause and effect! Maybe we'll know when we die (or not!!!!)